Ian Blackwell was yesterday drafted into England's Test squad for India after Ashley Giles failed to prove he had recovered from an operation to his right hip. Blackwell had been placed on standby a fortnight ago when it became clear that Giles was struggling to be fit for the start of the three Test tour, and the Somerset all-rounder will leave for Mumbai with Michael Vaughan's squad on Sunday.
Giles remains hopeful that he will play some part in the tour and England have given him the option to join up with the 16-man squad at a later date should he regain his fitness. The absence of Giles is a major blow to England's chances of winning their first series in India since 1984-85.
Shaun Udal, Monty Panesar and Blackwell, England's three spin bowlers, face a daunting challenge. The triumvirate have just three Test wickets between them and they will be taking on a batting line-up that is widely regarded as the best in the world.
"Naturally I am very disappointed," said a dejected Giles as he left the National Academy in Loughborough. "The time lines were always going to be very tight and they became even tighter once the surgeon went in and saw that there was more damage to the socket than he originally thought. The process of trying to correct the damage was always going to take longer than the three months we had to spare. The surgeon performed a process called microfracturing, which is when they attempt to stimulate the growth of good cartilage on an area of a joint that is just bone."
Giles admitted that in an effort to prove his fitness for India he began training sooner than he should have. "With hindsight we probably started to do weight-bearing work sooner than we should have. You have to start running at some stage and you never know how an injury is going to react until you get on it, but when I did start jogging the hip did not like it very much.
"The long term prognosis is still good. I heard that some people were speculating about whether I will bowl again. I will certainly bowl again, but it is important to get it right now. By doing that I will have a better chance in the future.
"I don't want to do long-term damage to the hip so that I am a complete wreck in 10 years' time, but I still hope that there is a lot of cricket for me to play with both England and Warwickshire."
Blackwell, with a career bowling average of 43, is the least threatening of England's travelling spinners but the tourists' desire to have a player capable of scoring Test fifties batting at eight means that he must be the favourite to play in the first Test at Nagpur on 1 March. Blackwell has scored 19 hundreds for Somerset and has a first-class batting average of just under 40.
On his day he is one of the most destructive batsmen in county cricket and it is this talent, along with the ability to bowl accurate and miserly left-arm spin, that has gained him 28 one-day caps. Blackwell should have played more cricket for England than he has but an apathetic approach to training and his physique has left the England selectors questioning his desire to play on the big stage.
Blackwell can hardly be described as a modern-day cricketer. In an era when most England players carry a trim little six-pack under their pristine white shirts, Blackwell supports a keg, and it is never long before conversation at a press conference he attends turns to his weight and fitness. But he has a refreshingly open and honest way of dealing with the media, and he appears to be unperturbed by the comments of those around him.
Indeed, on one occasion, following his arrival on an England tour, he was asked how his training was going. His reply was somewhat different to that of, say, Andrew Strauss. "Well, I've had my fitness tests and they have given me my training schedule," he said. "But, to be honest, it's not going to be easy. If they want me to get down to that weight I will have to cut a leg off."
Giles' injury problems look like giving Blackwell a wonderful opportunity to show what a gifted cricketer he is, and by doing well he will give encouragement to all those who will never have the perfect body.
All cricketers great and (not so) small: Ian Blackwell is not the first player whose size has attracted attention
England's premier all-rounder has not always had a svelte figure. His early days as an England cricketer were dogged by injury and he received plenty of criticism about his weight. Flintoff realised the folly of his ways - and the beers and curries - and he is now recognised as one of the leading figures in the world game.
After ripping the backside out of a pair of trousers while putting on his shoes Fat Gatt asked the Middlesex 12th man to go to Marks & Spencer to get him a new pair. When asked what size he required, Gatt said: "38-inch waist, 28 inside leg." It may not be the frame of an athlete but it did not stop Gatting from scoring more than 50,000 runs.
Boon holds the record for the most cans of beer drunk by an Australian cricketer on a flight to England. But as with Merv Hughes, the Aussies did not care less about his shape or what he looked like - they were more concerned with what was on the inside. His courageous and pugnacious batting epitomised the Australian spirit of the late Eighties and Nineties.
Big Merv, the foul-mouthed mustachioed Australian fast bowler, had a gut on him throughout his career, but it did not stop him taking more than 200 Test wickets. Australians loved him because he bowled with enormous heart and courage. What a legend.
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